JIS News

Story Highlights

  • Ms. Kirkwood will receive the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander (CD), for outstanding contribution to the development of the Jamaican Musical Theatre.
  • Ms. Kirkwood, who is affectionately called GG, was born in Del Rio, Cuba, and started singing at the age of three years.
  • During the heights of her career, she sang the title role of ‘Madame Butterfly’ in Yorkshire, and Mimi (‘La Boheme’) in Ireland; ‘Porgy & Bess’, ‘Carmen Jones’, and ‘Show Boat’.

Ninety-two year-old Mercedes Kirkwood speaks enthusiastically about her career in Musical Theatre, echoing the words – “The sound of opera excites me the most.”

Ms. Kirkwood will receive the Order of Distinction in the Rank of Commander (CD), for outstanding contribution to the development of the Jamaican Musical Theatre, at the 2013 National Honours and Awards Ceremony, to be held on Monday, October 21 (Heroes Day), at King’s House.

“I have always enjoyed singing; it has always touched my heart,” she says. “I feel very proud, and quite honoured that I have been remembered for my contribution to Jamaican musical theatre. It is a good feeling to know that I have gone down into Jamaica’s history, the emotion is quite ecstatic,” she tells JIS News.

Ms. Kirkwood, who is affectionately called GG, was born in Del Rio, Cuba, and started singing at the age of three years.

Years later, she relocated to Jamaica, and attended Jamaica School of Music (JSM), where it was discovered that she had a stunning voice, perfect for opera.

During her tenure at JSM, she became a popular favourite, appearing frequently in several concerts, and on radio programmes.

After spending sometime in Jamaica, she migrated to the United Kingdom, and furthered her career in operatic theatre, for some 16 years. Here she made her international debut.

During the heights of her career, she sang the title role of ‘Madame Butterfly’ in Yorkshire, and Mimi (‘La Boheme’) in Ireland; ‘Porgy & Bess’, ‘Carmen Jones’, and ‘Show Boat’.

After returning home to Jamaica, she made a number of local appearances at concerts, such as an Enchanted Evening with Jimmy Tucker and David Reid, in 1993; Mercedes Kirkwood & Friends in Concert, in 2005; and the Jamaica Musical Theatre Company’s 141st Production Home in 2009.

Ms. Kirkwood says she looks back with pride, and has no regrets that she chose singing as a career, because she has accomplished her dreams.

She tells JIS News that she played a vital role in the early years of the Little Theatre, and will always remain a household name on the opera circuit in Jamaica.

“I am blessed with the gift of singing, and I couldn’t have it any other way. I thank God that I made a positive impact during my career, which I am truly grateful for,” Ms. Kirkwood says.

Her daughter, Maria Azan, describes her mother as a very cheerful and vibrant individual, who has a passion for life.

“I remember when I use to accompany my mother to pantomime, with the late Louise Bennett, and Ranny Williams, which was a very joyous occasion for me as a child growing up. We went to see Queeny’s daughter, ThePirates of Penzance, which took place at the Ward Theatre,” says Mrs. Azan.

During her recollection of her mother’s musical career, she says that (Ms. Kirkwood) has done a lot of voluntary work over the years, to raise funds for several needy individuals, at various concerts, as a means of giving back.

She adds that her mom is considered a philanthropist, and a community activist, because of her love and generosity for people, from all walks of life.

“There is so much more that I know she would have wanted to do, but she has had a fulfilling experience as an opera singer. She is like an icon in the music industry, worldwide, and is deserving of the award, because of her accomplishments,” says Mrs. Azan.

She notes that her mother is recognized both locally and internationally, and is a role model to many, who are of the view that they were blessed to have heard her sing.

Mrs. Azan alludes to the Mercedes Kirkwood Foundation, which is to be launched at a date to be announced, which will provide financial assistance for a tertiary student pursuing a career in theatre music.